Our adoption story began many years ago when my husband and I first decided that one day, we would grow our family through adoption.
Adoption had been a part of my family for many years: I have cousins who were internationally adopted, and a brother who was adopted domestically at birth. We knew God called us to take care of orphans, and had financially supported a child through World Vision for many years. “We would love to adopt someday…” was a phrase we frequently used.
But we would soon learn that saying that phrase and actually starting the process were two very different things.
After the birth of our first daughter in January 2015, and the resulting toll pregnancy and birth took on my body for the months and years following, we knew having another biological child was not a good idea. However, it wasn’t until Orphan Sunday 2016 that I was convinced it was the Lord’s will for our family to grow through international adoption.
That Sunday morning at church, a father told the story of how he and his family adopted two sisters from Ethiopia. The images captivated me. The story tugged at my heart. My husband and I would finally be on the same page (he had been given peace about starting the adoption process long before I had). Adoption was the means to the family we knew the Lord had planned for us.
A few months went by and in January 2017, a friend who was in the process of adopting from Ethiopia posted a picture on social media of a kiddo who was looking for her forever family. She, too, was in Ethiopia. That picture is forever etched in my memory - it took my breath away. I knew at that moment it was time to start - we were adopting! Our family was going to grow by two feet, and we were headed to Ethiopia to make it happen!
We made phone calls to friends and family, posted our “announcement” on social media, created a Facebook page, began praying the process would be smooth, and dreamt about our child. We spent time vetting agencies, wrapping our heads around the financial demands, and finally “jumped.” Our official “start” date was January 26, 2017. From that point on, we were focused on progressing onward toward the pursuit of a child we had already begun to love.
The first half of our adoption process was the home study portion. Medical evaluations, financial statements, background checks, psychological evaluations - all these and more made up the paperwork portion of the home study. After all the forms were submitted, we had social worker interviews, separately and together, and a home inspection. Once it was all said and done, we had a nice home study report, which detailed our lives and ensured our home was a safe and secure place for another child.
Days before our home study was finalized, we received word that Ethiopia had suspended international adoption for an indefinite period of time.
This news put us into mental turmoil. Up until this point, we knew-that-we-knew-that-we-knew that our second child would be a “healthy infant” from Ethiopia. We even had a name picked out.
In the days and weeks that followed, we became more and more insecure in pursuing an adoption from Ethiopia. All signs pointed towards permanent closure due to political unrest and the peace I had been given in the beginning of our process slowly dwindled. We started exploring other options. We knew our convictions and desires were continuing to point us towards international adoption.
Luckily, our agency, Children's House International, had other programs. Of the programs for which we qualified, (primarily due to our ages and our young biological daughter), we felt a strong pull towards India. Days before Ethiopia closed their doors permanently to international adoption, and after a lot of prayer, counsel and discussions, we switched to the India program. Our home study was finalized. We were moving forward.
This was a pivotal point during our process. We had to grieve the daughter we would never bring home from Ethiopia. We gave up the name we had picked out. We answered question after question from people journeying with us.
We also had to learn a new process - one that involved special needs, unpredictable timelines and inconsistent courts. Luckily, during this time, we found a tremendous online community of people who were either walking through the process, or had successfully completed an adoption from India. I’m still convinced we wouldn’t have made it through without their guidance, advice and prayers.
The summer of 2017 brought about approval from the United States Government and then the Indian “Adoption Authority” known as CARA.
As previously mentioned, Indian adoptions involve “special needs children,” unless you are of Indian descent. Since we’re not, we were given a five-page list of “special needs” from our agency, with which we had to decide if we would “accept, not accept or would consider” kiddos with these needs. With this list, our agency logged onto the online portal of children daily, refreshed the page, and saw if any children met our age and special needs requirements.
Ten weeks after “registration,” we received our first and only referral file. In the file was the picture of a 2.5-year-old girl who was born with congenital scoliosis. She was just 7 months younger than our biological daughter. She was wearing a bright yellow dress, standing in front of a pink stuffy, and was incredibly thin. We knew from the moment we saw her, she was “ours.” However, as suggested by our agency and others, we sent off her file to be reviewed by an international adoption clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital. Encouraging news followed, and we officially “accepted” our daughter’s referral on November 13, 2017.
The following weeks and months involved more paperwork and preparing our hearts and home for our new daughter. In March 2018, we received the biggest approval of them all: the “No Objection Certificate,” which India sent issuing “approval” of the adoption. The last major hurdle was the court process, for which we would be assigned an advocate through our daughter’s orphanage and by adoption regulation, would be approved within 60 days. Little did we know, the court process would be the hardest and most defining part of all.
It took us 10 weeks to be registered in court - far longer than any “regulation” permitted. I remember thinking that this just couldn’t be happening. How HARD was it to go register a case for court?! When we finally received word we were registered and assigned a date, we realized our first hearing was 2 months out. It was a hard pill to swallow. More waiting, more patience, two more months until potential progress could happen.
In August, our first court date finally rolled around. Since India was 10.5 hours ahead of us, we knew the hearing would take place overnight. My husband and I were up multiple times during the night checking the court app for updates. The morning brought news: there were “strikes” in our daughter’s region, and all courts were closed. To our surprise, our next hearing was scheduled for two months later. Two more months of agonizing waiting. September came and went, and finally October arrived. It was the same drill: up all night refreshing our app to see if by chance we had “passed.” Morning brought harsh news again: the advocate never showed up, and our next court date was two more months out.
By then, our patience was running thin. We waited for December, and again, no forward movement. Our next hearing was scheduled for February 2019. At this point, we begged our agency to intervene. They agreed to contact someone at CARA to try to help. Two days passed, and my husband randomly checked the court app and shockingly, WE HAD PASSED COURT! The contact at CARA expedited our case, and FINALLY, our daughter was legally ours.
This court approval was a huge step on our journey, but of course, the rest of the journey seemed to be just as hard. We discovered an “error” in the written court documents and waited another six weeks for corrected ones. Finally, after 10 months between court registration and corrected orders, we were through the court process. Then, the birth certificate and passport were applied for, eventually issued, and we began packing our bags.
My husband and I left for India on March 4, 2019. We traveled for 36 hours, including an international flight, a domestic flight and five hours worth of travel by car. We arrived in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, India on March 6th. The next morning we took a car to Baneswar (approximately 30 minutes north) to get to our daughter. It was the longest drive of my life. We pulled up in front of a small white building and a man led us inside.
I will never forget the green staircase that led us to the upstairs portion of the building. We walked straight inside, and just minutes later, our daughter was brought out to us. There was no ceremony, no preparation. In fact, there was hardly any communication at all. There she was, in the flesh, all ours.
The following few hours are now a blur. There was an “official” handing-over ceremony, during which no English was spoken. We signed a few papers, shook some hands, were interviewed on national television and radios (and cannot find a recording or picture of those interviews to this day!). Finally, six hours later, we piled into a car with others headed back to Cooch Behar, and never looked back.
We were prepared for our daughter to “grieve.” While that day was one of the happiest of our lives, it will forever be one of the hardest for her. She lost everything and everyone she knew in a matter of hours. The first few days were full of language barriers, little eating, tears, shock and emotional overload. Two days later, we made our way to New Delhi to complete the paperwork and head home.
When we arrived at The Hilton hotel in New Delhi, it felt like we were “home.” The familiar beds, the hot water, the buffet breakfast.
Another amazing perk was the community. We knew before we left, through our online support groups, that other adoptive families would be at The Hilton when we were. While the amenities and name of the hotel warranted a larger bill than others, the familiar faces, support, laughter and forever bonds we made with other adoptive families in the lobby of the third floor of the hotel are absolutely priceless. Those memories will never be forgotten.
I can’t remember when we realized our daughter wasn’t just grieving - she was also sick; very sick. We convinced a doctor doing routine medical appointments for adopted children to perform an x-ray of our kiddo’s lungs, and we soon discovered she had a severe case of pneumonia. Luckily, the doctor prescribed medications and a nebulizer and had an EMT travel to our hotel to train us on administering the meds. Within 24 hours, our daughter “woke up.” She was no longer lethargic. She was eating, laughing, jumping, chasing balloons up and down the hallways. She was finally acting like a kid.
Due to a death in the family, we rushed to finalize all necessary paperwork to leave the country with our daughter in tow. After a 19 hour long flight, we arrived back in the United States on March 14, 2019. We were exhausted, hungry, smelly, and absolutely in awe of the family we had worked so hard to build.
Our “Forever Family Day” is March 15th - the day all four of us were together for the first time.
The past 14 months of having our daughter “home,” have been nothing like we expected. The first weeks were challenging - language barriers, unexpected medical diagnoses, attachment and bonding were all things we found ourselves working through daily. I still cannot believe she’s been with us for over a year!
If I had to tell you one thing it would be this: children belong in families.
Is the process hard? Yes.
Is the financial burden large? Yes.
Were there times we weren’t sure she would ever make it home? Yes.
Is parenting a child with trauma and a history of institutionalization a challenge? Yes.
Were we shocked to hear the level of medical needs she would require, the number of surgeries necessary to keep her alive, and the amount of care to help her body “heal” and “play catch up” from the lack of care she received the first three and a half years of her life? Yes.
But don’t stop reading here. Don’t quit at “it’s hard.” Don’t say to yourself that “other people will do that - not me.” If you’re feeling called to international adoption, let me be the first to tell you: You can do hard things.
Placing children in families is hard. It’s unnatural. It shouldn’t be necessary. I wish every child knew the love of their biological parents. I wish every parent was able to support their children financially, emotionally, mentally and physically. Unfortunately, that’s not reality, and luckily, that’s where adoption steps in. Children deserve the love of a mother and a father. They deserve to hold the title of “daughter” and “sister.” They deserve modern medicine, healthy food, birthday celebrations, and their very own chair at their very own table in their very own home. They are worth every piece of paperwork, every check written, every piece of the process, every sleepless night. I don’t care if they share their parent’s DNA or not; simply put: children belong in families.
Friends, international adoption is hard. But you can do hard things. It’s hard, and it’s worth it. I promise.